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Interview: Speedy Ortiz

Photo courtesy Sadie Dupuis

With a musical foundation lain by Pavement and Slint, Speedy Ortiz is heating up the New England corridor with its thick instrumentation and biting lyrics from Sadie Dupuis. We chatted via email with this purveyor of poetry, pop comics and kale chips about her band's 2012 buzzworthy release, the Sports EP (Exploding in Sound Records).

You play an insane amount of instruments! How old were you when you first picked up music? Who influenced you to get so immersed in it?
I played piano when I was young but didn't play rock until I was thirteen at Buck's Rock, a summer camp that's more of a self-directed artist's colony for teens. There, I got to play in bands and record songs and try out any instrument with no real commitment--drums, cello, oboe, whatever. It's the coolest place. I doubt I would be in bands if I hadn't gone there. I wound up working at this same camp as an adult, which was really rewarding.

You've decried comparisons to Best Coast and Juliana Hatfield. So what's the "snack rock" label entail to you? I get where the Juliana Hatfield comparison comes from, but I don't really see any likeness between us and Best Coast other than the fact that both bands are fronted by female songwriters. It's frustrating that sonically poor comparisons are so frequently made just because of a disproportionate focus on gender. I really hope that my assigned gender isn't the most interesting thing about our band.

Snack rock is our favorite arbitrary microgenre. We really like snacking out.

As someone who's studied/studying (are you a current student?) for an MFA in poetry, how do you balance Speedy Ortiz with school assignments? I've read you're a teacher as well-- at UMass Amherst or at another facility? What are the similarities and differences in your lyrics and poetry?
I'm getting an MFA in poetry and I also teach a freshmen expository writing course at UMass Amherst. I'm basically paid to write and read poetry and talk to students about culture and writing, with built-in long vacations. Couldn't ask for a better job as a touring musician. With both poetry and songwriting, I focus on language and sound more than meaning, and am interested in rhythmic composition. The songs are probably funnier.

What was it like opening for Corin Tucker and Thurston Moore?
Sara Lund, Corin Tucker's drummer, used to play in Unwound, which is one of my favorite bands ever, so I got a little starstruck. The shows with Thurston Moore and John Moloney varied pretty vastly each night, which was interesting as an audience member. They are really good people, and we love their duo as well as Chelsea Light Moving.

The name Speedy Ortiz is derived from a "Love and Rockets" character, and I've read you're into indie comics. What are some of your favorite graphic novels/series? Would you consider a comic series of your own, as you've provided artwork for your band's releases?
I made comics when I was younger but I haven't done much lately. It's tough to find time to work on an ongoing story so I mostly stick to single pieces. When I was a kid my mom got me into Peter Bagge and Archie and manga. My favorites are Los Bros Hernandez, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, Daniel Clowes. Some newer artists I like are Lilli Carré, Warren Craghead, Sam Gas Can.

Your LiveJournal announced that the next full-length album was being mixed. Can you give more details on the recording process, a prospective title and when it might be released? (Also, may I just say that I love that you have an LJ. I thought I was the only person still using that site! Right on!)
We recorded the album with Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab in Easthampton, (MA), who mixed our last two releases. He's recorded a lot of our favorite local bands so it was cool to be in that same studio (working) with someone who's a great engineer and also a great dude. It's ten songs long but that's about all I can say other than that it should be out later this year. Re: LJ, I still write in my personal livejournal from 2002, and I would use my deadjournal if that still existed. Tumblr is dumb!

How did the video shoot for "Tiger Tank" at Adrian Grenier's place originate?
Wreckroom is Adrian Grenier's home studio in his basement in Brooklyn. Brian Koerber, who engineers recording sessions there, heard us and asked us to come in and do a live video, which is the "Tiger Tank" video you saw. Darl (Ferm, bassist) apparently spotted the script for the upcoming "Entourage" movie while we were there. No spoilers though.

What are the "secret weapons" to the Speedy Ortiz sound? Guitar brands/pedals/alt tunings, etc.? Do you have a lucky plectrum or anything of the sort?
No crazy tunings or gear, really, for either Matt (Robidoux, guitarist) or me. In older bands I relied heavily on alternate tunings and a big pedal board and in a way this band started as an attempt to be interesting without relying on those trappings.

Can you compare and contrast the music scenes of Brooklyn and Northampton (other than the relative size, of course!)? How did each inspire your sound?
I think the main differences are actually really closely related to size... in a smaller scene like Western Mass, everyone knows you so there's no pressure to differentiate yourself, and experimental choices feel more like genuine expressions than ploys to get noticed. So many people and bands transplant to Brooklyn and it's nearly impossible to garner attention there without adopting a shtick. Good songwriting becomes secondary. But these are just impressions, not rules. I have favorite bands in both places and none of this applies to them.

On your LJ, you posted about avoiding eating turkeys on Thanksgiving and seem to be a champion of kale chips-- but you apologize to your band mates. Are you vegetarian/vegan, and they're omnivores? Does that complicate meal time while on the road?
I'm vegan, but I think many kinds of diets are sustainable, including omnivorous ones. More than subscribing to a particular absolute diet I think it's important to be informed about your food. It's hard for me to believe that anyone who is truly aware of the ethics behind factory meat, and its environmental implications, would still vote for it with their purchase, so I can't help being vocal about it when I have a chance. Nobody in my band is vegetarian (actually Matt might be pescatarian, I can't remember), but they're not buying, like, Slim Jims or anything. They're conscious, I think. We're all into trying different kinds of food on tour, cooking, checking out local spots, whatever.

Plans beyond the album release and the April tour? We'd love to have you guys in Los Angeles! :D
We've got shows here and there and then another US tour in July and August--definitely will come back to LA. Weed lemonade and all.

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